Monday, October 3, 2011

New York Times covers OCCUPY WALL STREET protests

NYPD 'White Shirts' Take On Enforcer Role

By Al Baker and Joseph Goldstein, The New York Times

02 October 11

RSN Special Coverage: Occupy Wall Street

he New York Police Department puts an endless list of tasks on the shoulders of its so-called white shirts - the commanders atop an army of lesser-ranking officers in dark blue.

But the portfolio of the white shirt has now unexpectedly grown to include the role of enforcer.

As the Occupy Wall Street protests, which began on Sept. 17, lurch into their third week, it is often the white shirts who lay hands on protesters or initiate arrests. Video recordings of clashes have shown white shirts - lieutenants, captains or inspectors - leading underlings into the fray.

White shirts led the face-off with protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday afternoon. The episode provided no viral YouTube moments, as the senior officers avoided confrontations with the demonstrators. Yet as hundreds of arrests were made, chants of "white shirts, white shirts" could be heard.

And a white shirt is the antagonist in the demonstrations' defining image: Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna's dousing of some penned-in women with pepper spray on Sept. 24, which seemed to surprise at least one of the blue shirts standing near him on East 12th Street, near University Place. The department is investigating the spraying.

Martin R. Stolar, a member of the National Lawyers Guild who is representing protesters, said, "It appears that it is white shirts that are directing the rough arrests." To him, their actions constitute a policy from on high. Even the chief of department, Joseph J. Esposito, the highest-ranking officer, was mixing with marchers last Saturday, briefly holding two people by the arm and directing their arrests.

Paul J. Browne, the department's chief spokesman, did not return a call to discuss the department's strategy, but in an e-mail he said most of the roughly 80 arrests made last Saturday "were made by police officers directed by supervisors."

In everyday policing situations, the one-two punch of uniformed response usually goes like this: Blue shirts form the first wave, with white shirts following. But those roles seem reversed in the police response to the Wall Street protests.

Police officers, law enforcement analysts and others cited a number of reasons for it. The prevalence of white shirts around Zuccotti Park, the center of the protests, signals how closely the department monitors high-profile events. Strategies are carefully laid out; guidelines for crowd dispersal are rehearsed; arrest teams are assembled. It is all in an effort to choreograph a predictable level of control.

Yet in the pepper-spray episode last Saturday, critics say, judgment was lacking.

"Unlike much street policing, large marches and protests involve lots of advance planning and the assignment of many supervisors to the scene," said Christopher T. Dunn, of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "It's therefore not surprising that supervisors would be personally involved in arrests. What is surprising and alarming is the sight of them using excessive force against protesters. Beyond the injuries that causes, it sends a terrible message."

For blue shirts, training dictates that they act as a team, not as individuals, said Thomas Graham, a retired deputy chief who until last year commanded the department's Disorder Control Unit.

"We don't want the officer initiating an action," Mr. Graham said. He said the goal was for commanders to steer subordinates into action.

Some observers have credited the police with nimbly tolerating the Wall Street protests, demonstrations that have received no official permits. Outside 1 Police Plaza on Friday evening, the seasoned agitator known as Reverend Billy tried to curry sympathy from the more than 60 officers standing across a police barricade. His sentiment was summed up in a protest sign that read, "The Working Class Must Unite (Hey, Cops, That Includes You)."

At the same time, the unscripted nature of Occupy Wall Street can prompt concerns among the police about chaos; marchers make on-the-spot alterations in their routes, and Saturday was a prime example: The march across the Brooklyn Bridge seemed as though it would be confined to the pedestrian walkway until a smaller group of protesters decided to march across the roadway, leading to hundreds of arrests.

Deputy Inspector Roy T. Richter, the head of the Captains Endowment Association, said he would prefer that his commanders use their delegating skills.

"Similar to a precinct station house, you don't want your precinct commanders making arrests and issuing summonses," he said. "Instead, they direct their resources, which include lieutenants, sergeants and police officers, to effectively address crime and quality-of-life conditions."

Rob Harris and Colin Moynihan contributed reporting.



The Bankers and the Revolutionaries

AFTER flying around the world this year to cover street protests from Cairo to Morocco, reporting on the latest “uprising” was easier: I took the subway.

On the Ground

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Damon Winter/The New York Times

Nicholas D. Kristof

The “Occupy Wall Street” movement has taken over a park in Manhattan’s financial district and turned it into a revolutionary camp. Hundreds of young people chant slogans against “banksters” or corporate tycoons. Occasionally, a few even pull off their clothes, which always draws news cameras.

“Occupy Wall Street” was initially treated as a joke, but after a couple of weeks it’s gaining traction. The crowds are still tiny by protest standards — mostly in the hundreds, swelling during periodic marches — but similar occupations are bubbling up in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington. David Paterson, the former New York governor, dropped by, and labor unions are lending increasing support.

I tweeted that the protest reminded me a bit of Tahrir Square in Cairo, and that raised eyebrows. True, no bullets are whizzing around, and the movement won’t unseat any dictators. But there is the same cohort of alienated young people, and the same savvy use of Twitter and other social media to recruit more participants. Most of all, there’s a similar tide of youthful frustration with a political and economic system that protesters regard as broken, corrupt, unresponsive and unaccountable.

“This was absolutely inspired by Tahrir Square, by the Arab Spring movement,” said Tyler Combelic, 27, a Web designer from Brooklyn who is a spokesman for the occupiers. “Enough is enough!”

The protesters are dazzling in their Internet skills, and impressive in their organization. The square is divided into a reception area, a media zone, a medical clinic, a library and a cafeteria. The protesters’ Web site includes links allowing supporters anywhere in the world to go online and order pizzas (vegan preferred) from a local pizzeria that delivers them to the square.

In a tribute to the ingenuity of capitalism, the pizzeria quickly added a new item to its menu: the “OccuPie special.”

Where the movement falters is in its demands: It doesn’t really have any. The participants pursue causes that are sometimes quixotic — like the protester who calls for removing Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill because of his brutality to American Indians. So let me try to help.

I don’t share the antimarket sentiments of many of the protesters. Banks are invaluable institutions that, when functioning properly, move capital to its best use and raise living standards. But it’s also true that soaring leverage not only nurtured soaring bank profits in good years, but also soaring risks for the public in bad years.

In effect, the banks socialized risk and privatized profits. Securitizing mortgages, for example, made many bankers wealthy while ultimately leaving governments indebted and citizens homeless.

We’ve seen that inadequately regulated, too-big-to-fail banks can undermine the public interest rather than serve it — and in the last few years, banks got away with murder. It’s infuriating to see bankers who were rescued by taxpayers now moan about regulations intended to prevent the next bail-out. And it’s important that protesters spotlight rising inequality: does it feel right to anyone that the top 1 percent of Americans now possess agreater collective net worth than the entire bottom 90 percent?

So for those who want to channel their amorphous frustration into practical demands, here are several specific suggestions:

¶Impose a financial transactions tax. This would be a modest tax on financial trades, modeled on the suggestions of James Tobin, an American economist who won a Nobel Prize. The aim is in part to dampen speculative trading that creates dangerous volatility.Europe is moving toward a financial transactions tax, but the Obama administration is resisting — a reflection of its deference to Wall Street.

¶Close the “carried interest” and “founders’ stock” loopholes, which may be the most unconscionable tax breaks in America. They allow our wealthiest citizens to pay very low tax rates by pretending that their labor compensation is a capital gain.

¶Protect big banks from themselves. This means moving ahead with Basel III capital requirements and adopting the Volcker Rule to limit banks’ ability to engage in risky and speculative investments. Another sensible proposal, embraced by President Obama and a number of international experts, is the bank tax. This could be based on an institution’s size and leverage, so that bankers could pay for their cleanups — the finance equivalent of a pollution tax.

Much of the sloganeering at “Occupy Wall Street” is pretty silly — but so is the self-righteous sloganeering of Wall Street itself. And if a ragtag band of youthful protesters can help bring a dose of accountability and equity to our financial system, more power to them.

I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook and Google+, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.